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Even though the number of organ donors registered in Illinois is at an all-time high, the state still had the 10th longest wait time for organ transplants in 2018.

The delay must be especially agonizing for the 14.7% of those on the transplant waiting list that the HealthTestingCenters.com says have have been waiting five years or more for a transplant. The government data the health testing company collected also underscores what we accomplish if we work together, and how far Illinois still must go to ensure that no one dies because of the lack of a lifesaving organ.

There is good news to report on that score. By now, for example, the Illinois organ and tissue donor registry may already have reached the 6.5 million mark. (The number of registered donors stood at 6,484,737 on June 30, according to the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network.)

We're also grateful to Illinois lawmakers for a new law to increase the pool of available living-donor organs. And to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the new law on Aug. 8 that bans discrimination against generous souls who undergo living-donor transplants. It’s hard to believe such a law is necessary. But experts assure us there are plenty of people who care little about this lifesaving issue.

Fortunately, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and state lawmakers and governors have a long history of attacking such transplant roadblocks. Clearly, it’s working.

Still, it’s disappointing nonetheless to learn that only 60% of adults in Illinois have taken the easy and painless step to sign up to be an organ and tissue donor after death. It’s also puzzling given that studies repeatedly show 95% of us support organ donation.

Couple that with the medical strides that have increased the frequency and type of organ transplants being performed today, and it’s no surprise that as of May, nearly 4,000 people in Illinois were awaiting major organ transplants. Nationwide, 113,000 were waiting for organs in 2018, an estimated 5,800 were expected to die waiting last year. Those numbers would be even higher if not for a sad and terrible fact, courtesy of the nation’s growing opioid crisis: Nearly 2,200 or 13.4% of all organs donated last year were harvested from people who died from drug overdoses.

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That report and another published on Aug. 8 in the Journal of American Medicine also show there is a long way to go until the day when no one dies due to the lack of a lifesaving organ. And, as the Gift of Life transplant advocacy agency noted recently, “It will take a collaborative effort if Illinois wants to make improvements in organ donation and transplantation.”

The U.S., and Illinois have a healthy base on which to build, and the JAMA study, titled “Success of Opt-in Organ Donation Policy in the United States,” suggests significantly more progress is possible.

Consider that even though the U.S. has an opt-in organ donation system, rather than one where permission for organ harvesting is assumed unless specifically rejected, the U.S. organ donation rate of 38.1 donors per 10,000 deaths is “second only to Spain (which has an opt-out donation policy)."

Authors Alexandria Glazier and Thomas Mone focused their conclusions on the U.S., but they also should inspire organ transplant advocates in Illinois to redouble our efforts to achieve this lifesaving and entirely possible  goal:

“International data suggest that the most effective donation authorization strategy for the United States is to build on the current opt-in system that demonstrably works and to increase the number of registered donors from today’s 54% to 75% or higher,” the study said. “Doing so would be an accomplishment that would increase available organs for donation and save thousands of lives.”

Not a donor? You can help by signing up today at lifegoeson.com.

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